Early (18th century) discovery of Cretaceous fishes from Chapada do Araripe, Ceará, Brazil – Specimens kept at the ‘Academia das Ciências de Lisboa’ Museum

Miguel Telles ANTUNES, Ausenda Cáceres BALBINO & Idalécio FREITAS

en Comptes Rendus Palevol 4 (4) - Pages 375-384

Published on 30 June 2005

Portuguese meaningful contributions to the Natural History of territories under the rule or influence of Portugal since the 16th century have most often been despised or just ignored. This is the case of the discovery by a Portuguese naturalist of the remarkable Cretaceous fossil fish localities from Ceará. The collecting of such fossils could be ascribed to the end of 18th century. Fossiliferous nodules have indeed been received in Lisbon well before 1807. Some have been rediscovered among the old collections of the Lisbon Academy of Sciences. Their origin may certainly be ascribed to the Santana Formation in Ceará. Additional evidence consists of a letter/report by João da Sylva Feijoo, a Rio de Janeiro-born naturalist that got his degree at the Coimbra University. This letter is dated “Siara 11 de Dezembro de 1800”. This document remained almost unknown, even if it has been published. Feijoo is better known as leader of a mission to Cape Verde archipelago, where he had been sent by the Portuguese government. He returned to Lisbon, where the Academy of Sciences published some memoirs by him. Sometime later, Feijoo returned to Brazil and settled down in Ceará, where he carried on prospecting work. Feijoo (ibid.) dealt with the saltpetre mine at Sítio Tatajuba and mentions that he sent samples from there to Lisbon for analyses. The corresponding samples have been sent to the Governor as well as fossil fishes. He also provides some discussion on the latter's occurrence conditions and expressed his wish to prepare a more detailed memoir on these fossil fishes. This is accordingly the origin of the nodules of the Lisbon Academy's Museum, where these specimens have probably been transferred from the Ajuda Royal Museum in Lisbon. As a concluding remark, let us say that, in our present state of knowledge, the first discovery of (and the first report on) the famous Cretaceous fishes from Ceará have indeed been that by the Portuguese citizen, the naturalist João da Sylva Feijoo, well before the supposedly, often claimed first discovery that has been related to the well-known expedition by Spix and Martius.


Chapada do Araripe, Santana Formation, Cretaceous, Feijoo, 18th century, ‘Academia das Ciências de Lisboa’, History of Sciences

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